Over the past few years, interest in true crime has soared. From podcasts to documentaries, the morbid fascination is becoming widespread. But do you have what it takes to become a homicide detective? Is it a career you’ve considered as you’ve been binge-watching CSI?
We’ve put together this guide to help you figure out what the job is really like, how much it pays, what policing skills you need and what steps you need to take to become the next Sherlock. So, let’s get started.
Homicide detectives are responsible for investigating and solving murder cases. From the grisly crime scene all the way through to the prosecution in court, homicide detectives are vital to bringing justice for the victims and their families. Some of their responsibilities include:
- Investigating crime scenes and gathering forensic and circumstantial evidence
- Conducting investigations into potential suspects
- Interviewing witnesses
- Obtaining relevant warrants to carry out arrests
- Interrogating suspects
- Compiling evidence into files for a prosecutor
- Watching and analyzing surveillance
- Consulting medical examiners, forensic anthropologists, entomologists, ballistic experts and other scientists to reach scientific conclusions
While being a homicide detective can involve working behind a desk, most of the time the role involves pursuing leads — wherever they may take you. There will be paperwork involved, but the role comes with huge satisfaction once a case is solved. A detective needs to have great attention to detail, as their work can, in some cases, mean life or death for a suspect.
A homicide detective will spend much of their time out in the field investigating homicides and analyzing evidence. However, they have to be comfortable speaking in a courtroom, as they’re likely to be called to the stand to testify about what they discovered.
Unfortunately, the role comes with risks. Police officers have some of the highest injury rates of all professions, and they face conflicts daily that could cause them physical bodily harm due to being in high-risk situations.
The role will also involve quite a bit of paperwork, so if you hate the idea of filling in form after form after form, this might not be the right career for you.
Unsurprisingly, a homicide detective doesn’t work the usual 9-to-5. Murders happen at all times, so hours vary significantly. You could be called out at 1am one day, while you could be strolling into the office at noon the next. In order to be successful in this role, you’d need to be flexible and understanding of the varied schedule.
While the job comes with its frustrations, overall, homicide detectives are happy with their work. According to PayScale, 3.5 out of 5 homicide detectives are highly satisfied with their job. Although they face risks on a daily basis, most law enforcement officers find it extremely rewarding to help members of their community.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the overall employment of homicide detectives is expected to grow 7% between 2020 and 2030, with around 67,000 job openings projected each year on average.
While many officers remain in the role until they retire, there is a national police turnover of 11%, with a higher turnover in agencies that are based in rural areas. The reason for this high turnover rate has been studied, and the feedback highlighted that lack of enjoyment and opportunities after an injury were to blame for people leaving the role.
As with any role, the salary of a homicide detective can vary depending on their experience, location, and other extenuating factors.
Based on BLS data, we’ve put together the average earnings for homicide detectives according to their level of experience and their location in different states to give you an idea of the earning potential for the role.
The overall mean wage for homicide detectives in the US is referenced below:
Annual mean wage
Hourly mean wage
Mean wage by experience
Homicide detectives’ earnings can vary depending on their level of experience and the amount of years they’ve worked within law enforcement.
The table below shows the annual mean wage for each level:
Annual mean wage
Mean wage by state
The following table shows the top states with the highest annual mean wage for homicide detectives in the US:
Annual mean wage
Median wage around the world
Sadly, homicides happen all around the world, so if you’re considering moving abroad to pursue this career, then here are the average salaries for the five largest English-speaking markets across the globe:
Annual median wage
So, you’ve got an idea of what the role entails, as well as the work hours and job outlook. If you’re still undecided if it’s the right choice for you, then follow this step-by-step guide.
Step 1: Determine if it’s the right job for you
The first step is determining if becoming a homicide detective is the right career path for you. You need to look at your existing skill set and check to make sure they align with the skills required to work in this role. Here is a selection of the professional skills you need to have:
- attention to detail
- critical thinking
- emotional intelligence
We spoke to LASD homicide detective Mike Rodriguez, who said one key skill a homicide detective needs is the ability to “keep an open mind”. He said to make sure you keep all investigative options open — don’t rule anything out. So, if you have an open mind and can look outside the box, then becoming a homicide detective might just be the right career for you.
It’s also a great idea to take a career assessment. Although you feel becoming a homicide detective would be perfect for you, it might turn out that another career path suits your personality, skillset and interests more. By taking a career test, like the one at CareerHunter, you’ll learn which careers are right for you, which allows you to make informed decisions about your future.
Step 2: Focus on the right subjects at school
There are no specific requirements to become a homicide detective, but it’s best to complete your high school diploma. From there, it’s beneficial to gain a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice. While it isn’t essential, it can give you a great advantage over other applicants and can give you more opportunities to advance to higher levels within the department when the time comes.
Step 3: Get a job in law enforcement
Many homicide detectives begin their career by taking the police academy training and then gradually work their way through the ranks. Getting on-the-job experience helps to understand different behaviors, how to deal with conflict, and generally understand the ins and outs of law enforcement.
Once you’ve got a job in law enforcement, you can shadow superiors and gain exposure within the area you’re interested. By doing this, you’ll gain an understanding of how to assess crime scenes, document the details and analyze the evidence. You’ll get experience of canvassing neighborhoods to gain information, as well as learning how to handle suspects properly.
Step 4: Develop your career
Police officers regularly undergo training to keep their skills up to date, meaning their knowledge is constantly expanding. By making the most of the training courses available to you, you’ll be able to develop your skillset and eventually rise through the ranks and get the promotion you’ve been dreaming of and working towards.
So, taking everything we’ve covered into consideration, is becoming a homicide detective still something you’re considering pursuing? You’ll need to have great attention to detail, while also compartmentalize the difficult things you’ll have to deal with every day. It isn’t a role for the faint of heart, and although the job is extremely rewarding when the perp is caught, you’ll need to consider all your skills when considering this career path.
Are you considering becoming a homicide detective? Or do you know someone who you think would be great in this role? Let us know in the comments below!
Originally published in December 2016.